Thursday, March 13, 2008

Opening Up About 57th Street

posted by Richard Gill

Following are reports of both the Wednesday, March 12 meeting, and the March 5 meeting on the opening up of 57th Street to westbound traffic from Stony Island and points east.

Sigmund Freud Experiences Repression Trying to Drive West on 57th From Stony Island

A second working-group meeting meeting was held at 8AM, March 12, at Ray School, regarding the proposed opening of westbound 57th Street at Stony Island. Compared to the March 5 meeting, this one was civilized. There were no outbursts or insults hurled from the audience and most people there seemed favorably inclined toward the traffic change. With one or two exceptions, the people who behaved badly at the March 5 meeting were not present on March 12.

Irene Sherr moderated the meeting. Also in attendance were Susan Campbell, Duel Richardson, and Brian Shaw (Transportation Coordinator) of the U of C; Sue Purrington, of Alderman Hairston's office: and a Herald reporter. There were 12-to-15 other people there, including representatives of 57th St. businesses Powell's Books, Noodles Etc., and Medici.

The CDOT traffic engineers reiterated their findings that were presented at the March 5 meeting. In particular, they said that, from a traffic and safety standpoint, the proposed change is quite workable, and there is no apparent reason why it could not be done. They also mentioned that the total 24-hour traffic volume on 57th St. - about 4,000 vehicles - is low for a street of that nature; more typical would be about 8,000. Even with the change implemented, neither the total volume, nor the peak-hour volume, would warrant traffic signals; stop signs and a flashing caution light would be sufficient. They said that, behaviorally, motorists tend to associate traffic signals with main (higher speed) roads, and stop signs with local (lower speed) streets.

The analysis took into account the Solstice building and a possible hotel.

The engineers repeated that, on a local street like 57th that has heavy pedestrian traffic and a mix of uses, congestion is actually an enhancer of safety. Traffic moves slower, drivers are more alert, and the street activity slows traffic down - things such as cars parking, delivery trucks stopping. Notably, they said that when traffic calming measures are installed, the intent is to mimic the effects of congestion. They said 57th Street already has some congestion; some additional congestion would make the street more pedestrian-friendly.

Additionally, the engineers said that speeding and accidents involving pedestrians are more prevalent on uncongested streets and one-way streets. Their other remarks included:

- Truck traffic is not an issue, because of the low clearance at the railroad bridge.

- 57th Street is slow and is not a route of choice to/from the Dan Ryan

- With the change, there would be less traffic in front of Bret Harte elementary school, and significantly less traffic there at peak times

- First responders, who need to drive fast, already prefer not to use 57th Street, because of the exiting congestion, and would continue to prefer other routes

- With the change, there would be less traffic queuing on southbound Lake Park at 57th Street.

Someone in the audience mentioned a traffic problem at 57th & Ellis and said opening 57th at Stony would make it worse. The problem with that argument is that anyone having to go that far west at 57th is going to find their way there via 55th or some other street.

Again, there was general agreement that the DO NOT ENTER sign at 57th & Stony is a significant hindrance to community access and navigability.

Parking, of course, was brought up, and, while it's acknowledged as an issue, I think most people agreed it's something to be addressed separately, not as part of this proposal. Irene Sherr mentioned that, during evenings and weekends, when museum visitors might drive westbound into 57th Street, commuters are not using street parking, and U of C parking is open to the public.

The three merchants liked the idea of opening the street, although the person from Noddles did complain about parking.

Speeding and disobedience of stop signs was judged to be a citywide issue, not something particular to Hyde Park, and a subject for enforcement by police.

Finally, there was some discussion about making the change on a trial basis. The engineers said that it would be possible. They would allow two-to-three months to let traffic adjust to the change and then evaluate it.

At that point, someone asked what a measure of "success" might be. My suggestion was that, by definition, the change would provide the benefit of more travel flexibility and options; therefore if no new serious issues developed during the trial period, the change should be judged successful.

The meeting ended around 9:30am. We adjourned to coffee and donut holes that had been brought in.

Reprise of the previous, March 5 meeting continues below!

posted by Richard Gill

"Why are you really so scared of opening up?"

I was there. The meeting was moderated by the U of C, which officially has no position on the proposed change.

I guess about 25 to 30 people attended. Based on the sign-in sheet, it appeared about 70-75 percent of the people were from an area bounded by 56th, Harper, Kimbark and 58th Street. Most, but not all of these (surprise!) spoke against opening up westbound 57th at Stony Island. Then there were other people (like me) from elsewhere in the neighborhood, some of whom (like me) think it sounds like a good idea.

CDOT had two traffic engineers there, who made a presentation on expected traffic impacts of the change. They said that based on their findings, the change is quite workable. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the weaker speaker of the two did most of the talking and allowed himself to be constantly interrupted by those who had already made up their minds that the proposal is a bad BAD idea.

According to CDOT, the additional westbound traffic on 57th, west of Lake Park, would be 60 to 90 vehicles in the peak hour. Presently, between 135 and 160 vehicles turn right onto westbound 57th from southbound Lake Park at the peak of each rush hour. Total 24-hour traffic on 57th Street, including both directions, would increase about 500 from about 4000 vehicles at present. CDOT says this is right in the normal range for streets like 57th.

The (unsubstantiated) objections were - congestion, parking, safety, pollution, quality of life, etc. Arguments about the need to make Hyde Park more accessible and navigable fell on deaf ears of the "against" people. It became clear that they don't want Hyde Park to be more accessible and navigable. At least they don't want it to be accessible; maybe once you've found your way in, it's OK to be able to find your way around.

The owner of Powell's Books spoke in favor of the change. He thought it would be good for more people (particularly museum visitors) to be able to easily enter the neighborhood and patronize local businesses. Then there arose a criticism from the gallery that this whole thing is only about helping business (BAD). It seems that some residents don't want to see local business improve, if the additional customers come from Council Bluffs, Bolingbrook, or Winnipeg. Maybe they object to me, coming all the way from East Hyde Park.

A few others, myself included, spoke in favor. My points were (1) that the additional cars on 57th would not be a net increase in the neighborhood and that some streets would have reduced traffic; (2) that, as stated by CDOT, traffic in front of Bret Harte School would be reduced; and (3) that connections between campus buses and Metra would be more convenient and safer because buses would be able to pull up to the north curb at the 57th Street station with the bus doors right at the station entrance.

As the meeting ended, some guy more or less commandeered the floor and got away with taking a straw poll, pro and con. Watch next week's Herald to see if they do anything with it.

Yes, as Elizabeth says, come to the March 12 meeting, listen to the presentation (even if you have to listen over the outbursts), and make yourself heard, whatever your opinion is. It is early enough in the process to make a difference. I think a decision has a way to go yet.

Finally, it was asked when and why the barrier at 57th & Stony was installed. Nobody, including CDOT, knew the when, other than it was presumably some time after the Big Bang. The guesses as to why were all over the place.


Jennifer said...

I don't suppose anyone mentioned bicycle traffic...

chicago pop said...

re bicycles, congestion is actually an enhancer of safety.

Same principle applies to two-wheels as to two-legs.

Jennifer said...

I know, I just want to make sure everyone else does so that pedestrians and drivers won't panic. ("Eek! Bikers! Nobody warned us!")

chicago pop said...

Got it. We'll offer up a little, mini-PSA:

Share the roads with bikers! Whoo hoo! Watch out at busy intersections!

I have an interest in this, too, since you may see me out there this summer with a baby in a Burley.

rpj said...

I was not at this meeting, but did attend the March 12th one and would like to add one thing on the pro side: Putting in a four way stop on 57th and Lake Park would dramatically increase safety. As of now, cars coming south on Lake Park and turning right to head west on 57th Street have no "conflict" (in CDOT terms) from other cars, so do not consistently stop. Since they don't stop there, they also roll through the 57th and Harper intersection. Furthermore, due to the poor repair of the sidewalk on the North side of 57th between Harper and Lake Park (it consistently floods with any rain or snow), pedestrians leaving the Metra station cross 57th at Lake Park despite the lack of a crosswalk. Come by that intersection during the morning or evening commute and you'll see the dangers of getting a cup of coffee or going home.

Richard Gill said...

Having attempted to avoid injecting too much editorial opinion into my summaries of the two meetings, let me now say: I think opening westbound 57th Street at Stony Island is a good idea. Even if only on a trial basis, let's give it a chance. I have written to Alderman Hairston, urging her to support the change. Let her know what you think.

Alderman Leslie A. Hairston
5th Ward
1900 East 71st Street
Chicago, IL 60649-2006
Tel: 773-324-5555
Fax: 773-324-1585